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Gifted Students Are Still Stepchildren

No other country in the industrialized world pays so little attention to its gifted children as the U.S. ("Gifted students -especially those who are low-income - aren't getting the focus they need," The Washington Post, Mar. 31). This may be because we assume that the gifted don't need the same focus as their classmates. 

That's a mistake we will regret deeply in the years ahead as we continue to squander one of our greatest assets.  It was only in 1988 that the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program became law.  But from the start, there was never enthusiastic support, and federal appropriations remained paltry over time.

I understand up to a point why the emphasis has been on underachieving students.  They deserve help in overcoming whatever deficits they bring to the classroom.  But I detect a bias against gifted students that if directed toward any other group would be the cause of outrage and litigation. The truth is that gifted students are no less in need of attention than other students. That's particularly so for black and Hispanic students.

The closest I came to teaching gifted students during my 28-year career in the Los Angeles Unified School District was the year I was assigned a class of "advanced" tenth graders.  Up until then, I had a few gifted students in my regular English classes.  But given a class composed solely of these students was an entirely different matter.  I don't think I ever had to work as hard.  These students challenged me everyday by asking questions reminiscent of graduate students in university seminars.  I don't know if I ever answered their questions to their satisfaction, but I quickly learned they had unique needs that demanded attention.

The latest report about gifted students by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is a compelling reminder that the issue remains. This creates what is termed an "excellence gap" that threatens to deprive the nation of precious talent.  It's time to disavow ourselves of the notion that the gifted will learn by themselves.  They need our support, but time is running out.

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